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Tatar Cleric Warns Religious Divisions Could Trigger 'Civil War'

Valiulla Yaqub
Valiulla Yaqub
KAZAN, Russia -- A senior Muslim cleric has warned against the spread of Wahhabism in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reports.

Deputy Mufti Valiulla Yaqub told RFE/RL that it is necessary to prevent Tatars from splitting into the Hanafi and Wahhabi branches of Islam, something he also warns about in his new book, "Be A Hanafi."

Yaqub, who is known for his pro-government views and opposition to foreign influences among Tatarstan's Muslims, said that any such tensions could eventually lead to violent clashes and even civil war.

He added that Wahhabis don't recognize followers of other schools of Islam as Muslims, and he recently demanded that Wahhabi practices be officially banned throughout Russia, as they are in Daghestan.

Yaqub wrote in his book that 95 percent of Tatarstan's Muslims are adherents of the Hanafi school. He added that it must remain the dominant branch of Islam in Tatarstan and that "we have to take [Hanafism] as the main foundation of Islam and squeeze out other influences."

The Hanafi school is known for putting greater emphasis on the role of reason in Islam and being slightly more liberal than other Muslim branches.

Yaqub suggests that if no measures are taken against Wahhabism -- a term used to describe followers of a more conservative, fundamentalist form of Islam -- then the violence that currently exists in the North Caucasus could spread to Tatarstan.

Tatarstan's deputy mufti also said that "given that the actual knowledge of Islam is rather low among the [Tatar] population, there is a need to correct the development [of the religion] in time [so that it goes in the right direction] like in other Muslim countries."

He cited the Hanafi tradition in Turkey as a positive example for Tatarstan to follow and added that only followers of that school "can serve as imams in [Turkish] mosques."

Yaqub said there are countries where the authorities' "indifferent attitude or the absence of preventive measures, divisions exist [results in] those places having endless instability and wars," like Lebanon and Iraq.

Yaqub blamed the small foothold that Wahhabi views are gaining in Tatarstan on foreign influences.

"Saudi Arabia feels no constraints in financing the spreading of Wahhabist traditions," he said. "The Saudis invited a large number of young people to study in their country and now those people spread those views among Tatars. Wahhabis are very focused -- they teach in prisons, establish contacts with criminal groups, and now we see a new tendency of them starting to work with people in the local authorities.... They simply work to corrupt officials."

Yaqub also thinks that there are some Tatar militants in South Waziristan in Pakistan and they will try to return to the Idel-Ural region, which refers to the wider Tatar-Bashkir homeland.

He added that the recent arrests in the town of Oktyabrsky, in neighboring Bashkortostan, are a sign of the rising activity of the Wahhabi underground in the region.